Texas Tech Researchers Find Elevated Arsenic, Lead Levels in New Orleans

DATE: Aug. 2, 2006
CONTACT: John Davis, john.w.davis@ttu.edu
(806) 742-2136

LUBBOCK – Researchers at The Institute of Environmental and Human Health found elevated levels of arsenic and lead in New Orleans after completing their second study of soil and sediment left behind in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.

The study was published in the American Chemical Society’s peer-reviewed journal, Environmental Science & Technology.

Texas Tech University’s follow-up sampling of multiple sites in the hurricane-ravaged city found high levels of arsenic and lead. Forty of 43 arsenic samples exceeded EPA standards and some lead samples exceeded the EPA’s safety standards by more than four times.

Researchers took samples at 43 sites around the city, including the Sixth and Ninth Wards and areas near an industrial canal and the Superdome, said George Cobb, research team leader.

“We confirmed that the majority of metals were not present at concentrations that suggest a widespread and immediate need for concern,” Cobb said. “However, arsenic and lead did frequently exceed EPA’s criteria for assessing human health risks. This poses difficult policy decisions for the regulatory community.”

The new study both confirms and expands on earlier findings. For instance, flooding after Hurricane Rita neither redistributed toxic metals in some areas of the city nor washed them away.

As plans for rebuilding move ahead, more focused sampling should be done in at the neighborhood level, the study stated, to identify specific hot spots in need of capping or other measures to prevent dangerous exposures.

On Dec. 14, TIEHH researchers reported unsafe levels of lead in soil and sediments left behind in New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina that could pose a


heightened health threat to returning residents. Some soil samples collected from the area contained lead levels as much as two-thirds higher than what the EPA considers safe.

For more information, visit www.texastech.edu/neworleanspollution


CONTACT: George Cobb, professor of environmental toxicology at TIEHH, (806) 885-0236, or george.cobb@tiehh.ttu.edu.